Jon Rose book review

rosenberg 3.0 – not violin music

Jon Rose

The Rosenberg Museum, $18.18

Rose resWere violins considered erotic this would be a book for voyeurs. Jon Rose has always been an unabashed provocateur as well being a pioneer and champion of improvised music, a famed player of outback wire fences and yes, for his sins, a violinist. Here he assumes a series of aliases with the common surname of Rosenberg (the book’s fictional publisher becoming the Rosenberg Museum), and blurs the lines between playful lies and fiction, between fiction and non-fiction. Meanwhile he creates short, stand-alone chapters written in different styles by different putative authors, always with the violin (or music more generally) as the protagonist, a keen sense of humour in a supporting role and a bristling intelligence lurking in the wings.

Rosenberg 3.0 – not violin music is the belated third book in a series that Rose initially published in the 1990s. Like his music it is unique, dazzling the reader with its multi-faceted, almost Cubist perspectives on the violin, music and culture. He warns you in the forward to expect “half-cries of despair suffocated by the cushion of mediocrity” and “imaginative explosions of the fantastical”, and then roundly delivers.

Enemies in the Rosenberg scheme of things include the piano, that fixed-pitch straightjacket on the development of western music, and orchestras, with their “anachronistic modus operandi and product range”. Then there is the dreaded virtuoso, perceived as the partial culprit for the current low participation rate in making music, and also our “war-mongering barbarian” political leaders with their “hatred, fear, loathing, neglect and misappropriation of the arts”. A fifth is the mainstream media. Rose is flummoxed by their ability to rationally discuss adventurous work in, say, the visual arts, but shy from anything other than the most primitive, safe or talent-deprived music.

Among the most amusing sections are a treatise on the violin’s place in heavy metal and a chapter on the “Rosenberg Code”, with its connections to past popes, vast wealth, excommunication, Leonardo’s The Last Supper and diamond-encrusted excrement. Interesting asides include the fact that playing a musical instrument is one of the most complex activities a human can undertake, and research suggesting that the average attention span of Americans has dropped to eight seconds – a second less than a goldfish!

Rose incorporates poetry from the curious quadrumvirate of Ginsberg, cummings, Byron and Lawson, and a series of black-and-white photographs of the violin in diverse contexts and various states of undress. An appendix offers over 100 definitions of music in the 21st century by people in or on the fringes of music, ranging from Sydney Festival director Lieven Bertels to Currency House supremo Katharine Brisbane, and from composer Martin Wesley-Smith to bassist Lloyd Swanton. You can cherry-pick a short story, a slice of analysis or an arch opinion piece, or you can put it down and take up your fiddle. In fact if you have ever felt a sudden urge to unleash the violinist within, but neither owned an instrument nor knew how to play, this is the book for you. All it lacks is a pop-up, ready-to-play violin. Through it all Rose’s writing is consistently entertaining, if tainted with little moulds of overindulgence. But there is no law against skimming over those. Hell, the pages aren’t even numbered.